The Gilgit Baltistan government is in talks with protesting sides to restore calm in the mountainous region, the home minister, Shams Loon, said on Saturday, as paramilitary forces were called in to assist the authorities in maintaining order.
The home minister, however, refuted reports about the deployment of Pakistan Army in the region.
“We are in talks with amaideen [religious elders],” Loon told Aaj News over the telephone when asked about the measures to handle the protests.
“They have given us assurances and we have urged them to promote peace messages in Friday sermons,” he said.
The talks were followed by a meeting of the Parliamentary Peace Committee, the top body presided by the chief minister that oversees matters related to law and order, held on Friday.
The nine-member committee comprises members from the treasury and opposition benches. The meeting was held against the backdrop of weeks of protest in GB triggered by alleged derogatory remarks purportedly passed by religious leaders.
According to the GB home minister, security was beefed up in Chilas and Skardu.
In a statement on Saturday the GB government termed the reports of the army’s deployment in the mountainous region amid protests as “baseless”.
All roads, trade centres, business activities, and educational institutions were open as usual, according to an official handout.
Aaj News correspondent in GB confirmed that the situation was normal in the area and bazaars were opened on Saturday.
Loon, who is part of the committee, confirmed to us that paramilitary troops – including personnel of Rangers, GB Scouts, and FC – were deployed in the region on Friday. The police were already on alert.
However, he categorically said that the army had not been called in.
He explained that the services of the army have been requested to maintain order on the eve of Chehlum, which would be observed on September 7.
From Tuesday, he said the security would be boosted in the context of Chelum.
Abdul Rehman Bukhari of Aaj News says that the decision was taken as per the past practice where special measures were also taken for the security of the procession routes and Imambargahs.
The Home Department has banned the assembly of gatherings exceeding four persons across the region under Section 144 of CrPC to avoid any untoward incident.
Security in Chilas and Skardu was already tight, Loon said.
GB’s economy to bear the brunt
Loon was of the view that recent protests have hit the GB’s economy, which relies on tourism.
“It is our peak time, unfortunately, hundreds of tourists came and cancelled their plans,” he said and added that the latest situation has spread anxiety among the travellers.
When asked, he said around over two million tourists visited the region this season and lamented the economic impact of the prevailing situation.
The United Kingdom joined Canada on Saturday to advise its citizens to avoid visiting the northern areas.
He condemned the Indian propaganda on the matter, saying that it was an internal matter of the GB.
“We will try to resolve this. I will request tourists to return,” Loon said, “We can handle it. We will try to ‘cool the temperature’.”